Getting Started with Route or Network Building Games

We’re on a freeway of love in a pink Cadillac. We miss you, Aretha. Shine on, Queen of Soul.

Getting back to tabletop games, there are plenty of games that cast the players with setting up routes or networks or roads or even freeways of love to score points. The difficulty levels of these games vary, and route or network building games tend to have more than just that mechanism in them. That may be because building roads or a network doesn’t appeal to a lot of players, but there are some beginner games that can introduce new players to the genre.

Your uncle Geekly’s back with another Getting Started, so let’s network.

Tsuro

Tsuro

A game that’s just building a road or route. That sounds too simple. It’d be boring. Tsuro doesn’t have much more to it than that, and it’s excellent.

Players lay tiles with winding paths on them from their hand onto a 6×6 grid and move their pawns as far on those paths as they can. The last player with a pawn on the board wins. Hint: you can lead your pawn off the board or into other pawns.

It’s a simple concept, executed well, and it doesn’t hurt that the game looks gorgeous. It also doesn’t hurt that Tsuro lasts fifteen minutes at the most. Perfect for a new player.

TicketToRide

Ticket to Ride

Ticket to Ride was the first game that came to my mind when thinking of starter route-network building games. It dominated the hobby when it first came out and remains popular. There are a lot of offshoots and expansions for Ticket to Ride that depict almost any region or country you could think of, but I’d start with the original United States map from 2004.

Players build railroad connections between cities, while trying to complete destination tickets that can span the length of the continent or country. Rummy-style set collection adds another layer as players collect cards with which to spend on railways between the various cities and usually, the first player to claim a route is the only one who can, so pressure builds when players decide whether to collect more cards for their hand or build a route before another player can do so. This is one of tabletop gaming’s simplest, elegant, and tense push-pulls.

Ticket to Ride may add another layer than Tsuro, but it’s still easy enough for a tabletop game newcomer to learn, and one of the best “gateway games” (easy-to-learn board game that’s great for introducing new gamers to the hobby) on the market.

Takenoko

Takenoko

I’ve talked about Takenoko in the past. Don’t let the Chibi Panda fool you, this game has plenty of depth, but it’s still easy to teach and learn and takes a different approach to route/network building. Like Tsuro, Takenoko uses tile placement, but the network in Takenoko is in its irrigation.

The game starts with a pond tile, and in order to irrigate their bamboo players must connect tiles of various color bamboo to the starting pond tile with what the game calls an irrigation stick. I think of it as more of a trench system to get the water to where one wants it, but I may be wrong. If I am, feel free to toilet paper my house. I live in Connecticut. Yeah, totally Connecticut.

Anyway, I included Takenoko because it shows how many games will incorporate network/route building in the game, but the game won’t be about network building like the previous two entries. Yes. Players need water for irrigation, but irrigation sticks are only a fraction of what someone needs.

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Saboteur

Saboteur returns this list to its classic network/route building roots, but it deviates in another direction: semi-cooperative and secret goals. The goal for the game’s mining dwarves is to build a network of caves (from hands of path cards) to reach gold. The goal for the game’s saboteurs is to prevent the mining dwarves from reaching the gold.

A good saboteur will pick the spot where they betray the team. Do they risk it and wait for the mining to team to get close to the gold and then play a U turn card? It’s very satisfying to be the saboteur, but who’s on which team is only part of the game’s hidden information. There are multiple locations for the gold to be at the beginning of the game, but no one knows where it is until they’re given a card that allows them to take a peek. Again, a good saboteur doesn’t reveal their identity because they could lead the mining team to the wrong spot.

Saboteur isn’t for everyone. There are some folks who hate traitors in cooperative games, but the runtime is so short that it had to make this list.

Final Thoughts

There are many other ways I could go with in terms of expanding this list of beginner route/network building games, but I’ll stop with these four because I miscounted them as five and if I had six I’d have to use the other hand to count.

Speaking of networking, we could use some comments about games or something else in the geek world. If you like this post, give it a like, and if you like what Geekly does, feel free to subscribe. If you subscribe, you can let your uncle Geekly know how wrong he is every day.

Getting Started with Dice Placement Games

Your uncle Geekly covered worker placement in a previous starter game segment—those are games where players place pawns on the board to gain certain abilities—and this week we’ll discuss dice placement games which are like worker placement games except that players place dice instead of pawns, or one could say that one’s dice are their pawns.

As usual, good old Geekly has some starter games for someone interested in the gaming genre. Let’s get to some of the better and simpler games of this type and work our way up in complexity.

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Kingsburg

I usually try to go with more recent games in a genre, but Kingsburg is a ten-year-old game or so that deserves a mention. Players chuck dice to determine what they can do each turn. The shared board hold a king space and spaces for advisors to the king. Each one grants a different ability based on the numbers one rolls. If some rolled three 6s, they can choose the king space at 18 or a 6 and a 12. The person with the lowest roll each round picks first, and that may be the most clever way to negate a bad roll. Dice hate me. If it was possible to roll negative 18, I’d do it.

There are three phases—oh, yeah three, it’s the magic number—and each player must face an invading army on the fourth turn. The fourth phase just happens to be winter. Winter is coming.

Even though players must face something at the end of each group of four phases, it’s nice to see that a worker placement game designer isn’t obsessed with food. And Kingsburg does a good job of bad die roll mitigation. You’ll see plenty of other designs use other methods to compensate for a bad roll. Apparently, I’m not the only one dice hate.

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Dice City

While Kingsburg has a shared board, Dice City gives each player their own board. On each turn, players roll five six-sided dice of different colors and place those dice on their board according to a chart. The columns show numbers and players must roll that number to place their dice in that row, but the rows are one of their die’s colors. So, if one rolls a three on their yellow die, they must place their yellow die on the second row (the yellow row) and the third space from the left (the column for 3s).

On each of these spaces, which are shaped like the game’s deck of cards, is an action. Players may choose to take the action they rolled (usually to get resources) or they may choose to discard one or more of their die or dice (for that round) to move another die left or right for each die discarded. You know how I said that Kingsburg does a good job with bad die roll mitigation, Dice City’s use of discarding dice allows for even more of that. Yay!

Players can upgrade their boards by purchasing cards with the resources they use and that accomplishes two great things: each player’s board is different and further strategy over luck. Dice City may look like a game that uses a ton of luck, but it’s sneakily deep. That said, it’s a step up, or at least sideways, in complexity to Kingsburg.

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Discoveries

Discoveries is most likely a step up in complexity to the others on this list, but a lot is added with that smidgeon of complexity. In this game, players take on the roles of explorers tasked by Thomas Jefferson to explore the western United States.

Unlike the other games on this list, Discoveries uses unique and thematic dice to represent the players journey. Horseshoes, feet, writing, and Native American die faces replace pips of 1-6. Each player receives five of these dice in their player color. They roll their dice and may take one of two actions each turn: play dice of the same type to any space on the board or get dice back from the game board.

It’s this push-pull of gaining dice from the game board—and how one does it—versus using dice that give Discoveries its depth. I’ll discuss how to get points later, but one doesn’t necessarily grab all their used dice when they take the “rest” action or the one that allows a player to retrieve dice from the board. Many of the dice used to explore go to a communal discard area. A player has the option of taking all the dice from one of the communal discard areas or taking all their personal dice (no matter who has them or where they are). It’s a wrinkle not seen in too many other dice placement games. Players must do a good job timing when they retrieve dice. You can snake someone’s die and use it before they decide to take it back. It takes a game or two to get the timing, but it’s not that difficult to learn and that’s why Discoveries is the last game on this list.

Players earn points by exploring more areas, but to explore an area one must generate enough resources (in rivers or mountains to cross) in a single turn because players cannot bank rivers and mountains from one turn to the next.

The game ends when the deck runs out of cards, and there is a scoring method that’s simple enough to understand but would make this write-up swell even more with words, so I won’t include it here, but another one of my favorite mechanisms is Discoveries use of dual-sided cards. Players may befriend Native American tribes and if a card from that offering is used, a new card is dealt Tribe side up. Players also use cards if they explore and if a card from that offering is used, a new card is dealt Exploration side up. It’s an elegant system that forces each game to play differently than the last.

Discoveries, like the other games on this list, also has bad die roll mitigation, but it may be the cheapest of all of them: trade in one die to turn another die to the face you want. Love it. This is easily the least random result dice game on this list.

Final Thoughts

Like worker placement games, it’s difficult to come up with easy to learn dice placement games with depth. Again, I had to go with slightly more complicated games than usual, but they still have some wide appeal. There’s a little more variety in terms of subject matter too. And no food. Yay!

How many times have dice hated you? You can roll shame one of your dice or let us know your favorite dice placement games in the comments.

Fantastic Four Starter Stories

Fantastic Four began the Marvel Age of Comics, but that doesn’t mean that it’s had as much luck with its movies as other Marvel properties. The ugliness brought on by less-than-stellar films and the fallout from contract disputes led to the comic book getting cancelled before 2015’s Fant4stic. The FF’s omission spread to other projects like Marvel: Dice Masters. I’m still waiting for the Fantastic Four set we were supposed to get shortly after launch.

Anyway. With Disney buying out Fox that should all change. Heck, the Fantastic Four comic book was relaunched in August 2018, so positive things have already happened. This is only the beginning.

Your uncle Geekly’s sure Marvel’s first family will make its Marvel Cinematic Universe debut in the not-so-distant future, and it may be a good time to catch up with some of the stories new fans will want to read to get to know Reed, Sue, Ben, and Johnny better. These are good stories for new fans.

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The Galactus Trilogy Fantastic Four Vol. 1 #48-50 (written by Stan Lee/art by Jack Kirby; 1966)

Uncle Geekly could’ve started with the Fantastic Four’s origin story, and that would be a good enough place to begin, but it’s been covered in film and cartoon a lot. Fantastic Four Vol. 1 #1 is as good as any of the reboots and relaunches, but I talk about origins all the time with these starter stories. Let’s start with something different. Let’s begin with the ultimate in Fantastic Four required reading: Galactus.

First, the Galactus story came out in the middle of Lee and Kirby’s collaboration, so they’re at the height of their storytelling powers. You’ll see more of this in the next entry.

Second, the peerless pair didn’t hit the brakes once after this story got started. Silver Surfer arrives. Uatu warns the family. Galactus looms large above Earth, preparing to eat it. It was loud and bombastic. This story was one of the longest comic book stories at the time. The pacing worked, and it led to comic books adopting longer story arcs.

Finally, the legend of how this story came about is telling of the pair’s storytelling technique and of Galactus. Kirby asked Lee “What if the Fantastic Four met God?” I’m not sure if this conversation ever happened, but presumably Lee responded with a “yes, and.” One would get the ball rolling and the other would always add to original idea, and the original idea of Galactus was an enemy that was above good and evil: a force of nature.

The idea of a villain that was neither good or evil was novel, and “The Galactus Trilogy” remains one of the best Fantastic Four stories.

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This Man, This Monster! Fantastic Four Vol. 1 #51 (written by Stan Lee/art by Jack Kirby; June 1966)

Just in case you missed the details of the last entry and this one, you’ll notice that Galactus was followed up immediately with “This Man, This Monster!.” Like the story it followed, “This Man, This Monster!” introduced more elements to superhero storytelling: focusing on a character’s humanity and interpersonal relationships.

The Thing’s powers are a blessing and a curse and no story by Lee and Kirby does a better job of illustrating that than this one. It’s a single-issue story that explores what happens when Ben Grimm loses his powers and culminates with him making a tragic personal sacrifice. It’s one of Lee and Kirby’s best and shows the pair’s range.

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The Trial of Reed Richards Fantastic Four Vol. 1 #262 (story and art by John Byrne; June 1984)

I’m not going to sugar coat this. The 1970s weren’t a good decade for Fantastic Four stories. John Byrne did a lot to reinvent and reinvigorate the team. “The Trial of Reed Richards” represents the best Byrne had to offer.

Reed must stand trial for allowing Galactus to live and devour more planets. This single-issue tale does a great job of exploring morality, catches readers up on what Galactus was doing for the past decade, and questions what the universe would be like without a force of nature that can eat entire planets. Byrne does a great job of defending Galactus’s right to exist.

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Fantastic Four: Unthinkable (written by Mark Waid/art by Mike Wieringo; 1998)

I’ve gone long enough without a Doctor Doom story, and that’s because I wanted to wait for the best Doctor Doom story “Unthinkable.”

Waid and Wieringo’s run on Fantastic Four captured the boundary pushing adventures of the FF’s past and is considered one of the best runs on the series. “Unthinkable” does a lot to solidify that claim. Unable to beat Reed as a scientist, Doom turns to the one “science” Reed was never able to comprehend: magic.

“Unthinkable” forced the Fantastic Four, and especially Reed, to stretch their capabilities. Doom reached new levels of villainy here that included dark arcane powers, a suit made of flesh. Despite Reed’s efforts, Doom still magically disfigured Reed and set him on a path that would lead to Ben’s death.

If a reader wants to know the depth of Doom’s hatred for Reed and the rest of the FF, look no further than “Unthinkable.”

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Fantastic Four: Hereafter (written by Mark Waid/art by Mike Wieringo; 2004)

I did it with Lee and Kirby and here I go again—sort of—with Waid and Wieringo. “Hereafter” follows “Authoritative Action” which happened because of “Unthinkable.” Let’s just say that Reed didn’t handle Ben’s death well, and it led to some ugliness in Latvaria. Reed decides to put his trust in something greater than himself in “Hereafter.” The surviving members of the Fantastic Four storm the gates of Heaven to rescue Ben. This story doesn’t question existence as much as exploring one’s consequences.

Reed, Sue, Johnny, and Ben don’t save the world in “Hereafter.” They don’t battle a huge villain or overcome a cosmic threat. This story focuses on love, friendship, and hope.

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Fantastic Four: Three (written by Jonathan Hickman/art by Steve Epting; 2010-2011)

What is with the Fantastic Four and wanting to be a trio? Hickman had a great run with Fantastic Four in the 2000s, and “Three” might be the best of his stories. Annihilus—an often-overlooked FF villain—poses the threat here, but the crux of the story comes in the form of Ben losing his powers and not being able to help his best friend Johnny during an invasion from the Negative Zone.

Johnny gets overrun by the Annihilation Wave as Ben seals the portal from the outside. Ben gets his wish of being normal, but he struggles with losing Johnny. If readers want to learn more about Johnny and Ben’s unique bond, give “Three” a read.

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Fantastic Four: 1234 (written by Grant Morrison/art by Jae Lee; 2011)

Grant Morrison likes to bend reality with his stories, so a Fantastic Four mini-series was inevitable. “1234” splits the family with four individual stories. Each member must suffer through a series of personal misfortunes and many of the team’s greatest enemies make appearances.

All the madness in “1234” leads to the team’s greatest adversary Doctor Doom. “1234” is a great showdown between two of the smartest men in the Marvel Universe. This is a battle of will, wits, and intelligence.

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Fantastic Faux (written by Matt Fraction/art by Mike Allred; 2012-2014)

It may not look like it, but many heroes have donned the Fantastic Four uniform. The oddest group to wear Fantastic Four tights must be the team of Fantastic Faux.

Following Jonathan Hickman’s great run on Fantastic Four, Fraction took over both Fantastic Four and its sister title FF. The results were the team being sent through space and time, which left a vacancy in the Baxter Building for a substitute team to fill.

Ant-Man, Medusa, She-Hulk, and the newly introduced Ms. Thing (Johnny’s pop-star girlfriend Darla Deering who wore a mechanical Thing suit) were left in charge of the Future Foundation’s group of advanced science students. As Allred and Fraction are wont to do, they dial the sci-fi bizzarroness up to 50. A Voltron-style Doc Doom/Annihilus/Kang mash-up villain named Kang the Annihilating Conqueror, a one-eyed future Johnny, and the odd alien Foundation’s students graced this 16-issue run.

But like most great FF runs, “Fantastic Faux” challenges the idea of family. Not only are we born into a family, we have family that we choose.

That’s my list for readers who are new to Fantastic Four comics. If I didn’t get the list right, I’m sure it’s right in some alternate reality. I’ll have to ask Reed which one or you could let me know in comments.

Getting Started with Cooperative Board Games

Let’s talk about cooperative board games—cause you’ve gotta have friends. These are games where the players compete against the game, not the other players seated at the table. It also happens to be one of your uncle Geekly’s family’s favorite gaming types. That could be due to a lineage of sore losers.

They’re sore losers, not me. No, really. They’re terrible. I have no idea what you’re talking about. No, you’re a stupid, doodoo face, and I don’t want to play with you anymore because you cheat. Cheater!

You don’t have to worry about cheaters as much with cooperative board games, and there are plenty of these games out there. The problem is that some of these games aren’t that good and others are too difficult to get into. Don’t worry. Your uncle Geekly will point you in the right direction of some good beginner cooperative board games.

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Pandemic

I almost didn’t put this one on the list, but I’m sure tabletop game purists would cry foul if I didn’t. You made a list of great starter cooperative games and you didn’t include Pandemic? Shame!

Calm down. It’s on the list.

Players assume the roles of people trying to stop a global pandemic. The diseases behave like you’d think diseases may behave and that makes sense, since the game’s designer Matt Leacock happens to be a medical doctor. Come to think of it, I could use a physical. There’s a growth I’ve been meaning to have examined. I should give him a call.

Anyway. The game scales extremely well, meaning that it plays just as well at two players as it does at five, and there are varying levels of difficulty. You’ll see this in other Leacock games—spoiler alert: one will show up later on this list—and the inclusion of easier difficulties allows players to start small and go for something more challenging later. The theme is also one people can get behind. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen players name the various diseases, even though these diseases are represented by little more than cubes.

The one gripe I may have about Pandemic is that there can be a tendency for an alpha gamer (a player who tells other players what to do) but give them a few kicks to the cubes and they’ll stop. Pandemic is one of the games that put cooperative games on the map, and it’s easy enough to learn for new gamers.

hanabi

Hanabi

Hanabi is the odd game on this list. It’s a simple card game for folks who don’t want a more complicated game, so it’s easily the most streamlined game here. It also encourages non-verbal communication. It’s like Freddie Mercury once said, give me your body.

Well, maybe not, but body language and positioning cards a certain way in your hand does come into play here. Hanabi uses a deck of cards numbered 1 through 5 in various colors or suits. Players must place these cards in order by suit, but the catch is that each player’s hand of cards is facing away from them, and the other players must give their teammates clues as to what’s in their hand.

Hanabi forces players to create their own language as they’re only able to give simple clues like “this is a 5” or “this card is yellow.” It’s up to the player receiving the information to figure out what was intended. While “this card is a 5” usually means don’t discard it, idiot, because there’s only one 5 of each color in the deck, “this card is yellow” could mean that the card in question plays on the communal play pile or if yellow is already finished (as in the 5 has already been played), “these cards are yellow” could mean that you need to discard those cards and get new ones.

No one can say anything besides short clues about cards in other players hands. I’ve never seen a more tense game where little is said.

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Forbidden Desert

Yep, Forbidden Desert is the other Matt Leacock game. I also could’ve gone with Forbidden Island here, but it’s kind of a Pandemic light. Forbidden Island is worth the play if Pandemic or Forbidden Desert sound too complicated. Did I mention that Matt Leacock is the king of cooperative board games? Well, if he isn’t, he’s close.

Forbidden Desert adds moving location tiles and sand tiles to bring home the theme of a desert and its shifting sands. Players can lose four or five ways but can only win if they find the parts to an ancient, Jules Verne style flying contraption and escape. Anything is better when you add a steam punk.

Players also have variable powers like they do in Pandemic and these powers are based on occupation, and the flying contraption is one of the best implementations of a toy piece in a board game. I don’t know the last time I placed one of the pieces in the flying contraption. I usually have the task of dismantling. Your uncle Geekly’s a little salty about that.

Like Pandemic, Forbidden Desert is clever and finds a way to make the desert its own character. That’s always a strong point for a game. I can’t wait to see what Leacock’s third game in the trilogy Forbidden Sky will bring. It just came out at GenCon 2018.

Final Thoughts

Even if a cooperative game is more complicated than the ones on this list, it’s easy to teach new players because players join forces to beat the game. Players want their teammates to succeed so a cooperative game is a great place to begin for a new gamer, but the games on this list are very assessible. If you don’t think so, I’ll dump a bucket of cold water on Jim.

Know of any other great beginner cooperative games? Let us know in the comments.

Thor Starter Stories

Doth mine eyes deceive me? T’would be folly to journey the path of Asgardian tales alone.

Okay. I can’t do that for more than two sentences. Hi, it’s your uncle Geekly, and if you can’t tell, this week’s starter comic book stories will feature the Avenger who sounds as if he belongs to an oafish Shakespearean acting troupe. Thor!

Many comic fans wouldn’t place Thor as one of the most important Marvel creations, but I’d argue that the Jack “The King” Kirby and Stan “The Man” Lee character did as much for Marvel’s universe as the Fantastic Four or at least his tales gave context to the Fantastic Four’s. The dysfunctional, loving family may have introduced readers to the Marvel universe’s greatest reaches due to their exploits, but Thor is a citizen of one of these far reaches. He gives readers a different perspective.

It should come as no surprise that when the Marvel Cinematic Universe needs an alien perspective, it often turns to Thor or another Asgardian. Speaking of the movies and television shows, I’ll be focusing more on Thor stories for new readers who have been introduced to the character by the MCU and that means that there will be a notable omission: Kirby and Lee’s series run.

Boo! Hiss! Uncle Geekly isn’t a true believer.

Okay, I may not include it in the main list, but I’ll give Kirby and Lee’s run an honorable mention here because it’s some of their best work and does a great job of setting up most of the series’ regulars. Thor Epic Collection: The God of Thunder is a great place to find one of the best mixes of sci-fi and mythology. It’s like Thor and the other Norse gods were meant to be reinvented by Lee and Kirby.

With that out of the way let’s get to the stories that may remind readers of the movies.

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Thor: The Mighty Avenger Vol 1 (written by Roger Langridge/art by Chris Samnee; 2010-2011)

We’ll start with a short read. Thor: The Mighty Avenger didn’t last long enough, but it does a great job building the relationship between Thor and Jane Foster. Don’t worry. Readers can find some action, but it often takes a backseat to Thor’s personal life and that’s a major point in a lot of Thor books and a focus for the first Thor movie.

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Thor (written by J. Michael Straczynski/art by Olivier Coipel; 2007-2011)

Thor had disappeared from the Marvel Universe for many years before Straczynski and Coipel brought him back in a big way. He and the rest of the Asgardian gods were reborn in this run. Lady Loki—you’ll see plenty of people dressed as her at Comic Con—made her first appearance in this storyline as did changing the thunder god’s base of operations west of the Mississippi (specifically Broxton, Oklahoma), which helped combine elements of the fantastic and mundane.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe may have changed where Thor landed to New Mexico, but the earthly elements in this story are the basis for the earthly ones in Thor.

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Avengers Disassembled: Thor (written by Michael Oeming/art by Andrea Di Vito; 2004)

There’s a reason Thor vanished from the Marvel universe for several years before Straczynski and Coipel brought him back, and Avengers Disassembled: Thor is it. Ragnarok has been explored in the Marvel universe before, but the basis for Thor’s part of Thor: Ragnarok comes from this section of the crossover event.

This comic felt like a movie waiting to happen, but if you’re thinking that it’ll be as light-hearted as Thor: Ragnarok, think again. This is a much somber tale.

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Thor: God of Thunder (written by Jason Aaron/art by Esad Ribic; 2013-2014)

In deference to Jim I won’t include Jane Foster as Thor when I discuss Thor: God of Thunder. He may have to write an unpopular opinion or another article of that ilk explaining why he doesn’t care for different characters donning the costumes of classic superheroes in the future. But before Jane took the mantel, Thor: God of Thunder was epic.

It made Thor a rock star. It showcased the character’s raw power and with stories that explored Thor as a brazen youth, it reminds readers of the immaturity Thor sometimes displays in the movies.

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The Mighty Thor (stories and art by Walter Simonson; 1983-1986)

It’s hard to find a place for Walter Simonson’s run on Thor. Many fans would dub his series run as the definitive Thor.

Simonson built on what Lee and Kirby started. The fusion of sci-fi and mythology grew. Classic battles with villains like Hela and a version of Loki similar to the movies can be found here. Even the—shudder—villain of Thor: The Dark World Malekith comes from Simonson’s run. If you want a better Malekith tale, check him out in the original comics.

Simonson is the one Thor creator who had the stones to transform the main character into a frog and make it amazing. These stories remain arguably the character’s highest point.

That’s my list for readers who are new to Thor comics. Great Jim Plath’s beard those were terrible choices. Unleash hate mail on the writer from Broxton. Or you can leave a comment. If you’d like access to the Bifrost, subscribe for new content.

Wolverine Starter Stories

Uncle Geekly may be a little rusty with getting back into the swing of things, so I’ll kick off this year’s starter list with someone who’s the best at what he does, but what he does isn’t nice.

Wolverine invades the Marvel’s comic book universe. He may not have as long of a history in the comics or in films as characters like Spider-Man or even the Hulk (I’m including made-for-TV movies here), but Logan’s adventures bring droves of fans to comic book shops. It can get tricky with where new readers should start with the Canucklehead—for the newbie, that’s a fusion of the word Canuck or Canadian (Wolverine’s homeland) and knucklehead—but your uncle Geekly will set you on a good path to get to know Marvel’s number one furball.

Wolvie got his start in the Incredible Hulk #181 (1974), and he famously joined the X-Men with Giant-Size X-Men #1 in 1975, but I won’t focus too much on Logan’s X-Men stories. I’ll try and stick with his solo adventures as he’s become a comic book superstar in his own right.

I’ll also try and suggest a reading series that goes with the character’s timeline, instead of the dates in which the stories were released. This can get sticky as Marvel writers like to jump back and forth through time and space. I’ll do my best at navigating.

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Origin #1-6 (written by Bill Jemas, Paul Jenkins, and Joe Quesada/art by Andy Kubert and Richard Isanove; 2001-2002)

For decades Marvel refused to reveal little about Logan’s past prior to the Weapon X Program, but that all changed after Hugh Jackson made Wolverine a household name in the X-Men movies. Marvel realized if they didn’t give Logan an origin, the movies might beat them to the punch. So, the mini-series Origin was born.

Origin goes back to Logan’s childhood in the 19th century. That’s right, he’s that old. I won’t go into too many details, but Origin shows most of the character’s ancient past: Wolverine’s real name, his parents, his first berserker rage, and how he became the mononymous Logan.

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Marvel Comics Presents #72-91: Weapon X (story and art by Barry Windsor-Smith; 1991)

Origin may have been Logan’s true origin story, but most of the character is defined by his time as Weapon X.

Only the prologue and part of the final chapter in this story are told from Wolverine’s perspective. The bulk of Weapon X follows three members of the Weapon X team and much of the story plays out like a slasher film, featuring the bladed berserker.

If you’ve seen the movies, but haven’t read the comics, you’ll notice references in X-Men 2 and X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

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Wolverine Original 4-Part Mini-Series (written by Chris Claremont/art by Frank Miller; 1982)

When the X-Men was revamped in 1975 Wolverine wasn’t supposed to be the series’ star—heck, he wouldn’t show up on covers for months at a time—but Chris Claremont’s portrayal of the character made him a fan favorite. 1982’s Wolverine limited series marked the first time Marvel ever made a limited series—it’s a comic book industry standard now—and it’s the first time that Claremont used the words I mentioned in the beginning of this post to describe Logan: “I’m the best there is at what I do, but what I do isn’t very nice.”

In this series Logan travels to Japan. The story plays out like a samurai redemption, and many familiar elements find there way here. Logan’s love interest Mariko will appear several times in various timelines and universes. Frank Miller included The Hand in Wolverine, and they’ve been in numerous episodes from the Marvel/Netflix series of shows. The second Wolverine film (simply titled The Wolverine) also pulled a lot from this classic.

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Kitty Pryde and Wolverine #1-6 (written by Chris Claremont/art by Al Milgrom; 1984-85)

Wolverine has a thing for taking young, female members of the X-Men and becoming their mentors—in a non-creeper way, I swear. He mentored Jubilee in the comics and 1990s cartoon. He mentored Rogue in the first X-Men film. He would mentor Armor in the late 2000s. But Wolverine’s first mentee was Kitty Pryde in this mini-series.

There are several modern comic book fans who wouldn’t get why Kitty Pryde was that popular. Kitty Pryde and Wolverine brought her notoriety. Prior to this series, Kitty was little more than a spoiled, rich kid, but she grows up fast here as she’s torn down and built back up with the help of Logan. This is the moment Kitty Pryde became Shadowcat. It’s also the first time fans saw Logan’s “softer side.” Sure, he’s a killer, but he’s a killer with a heart of gold.

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Wolverine: Not Dead Yet (written by Warren Ellis/art by Leinil Francis Yu; 1998)

If you can’t tell, Logan is the king of Marvel mini-series, and Wolverine: Not Dead Yet is another example. I included this one mostly because there aren’t that many good Wolverine stories where Logan has bone claws and Logan’s bone claws added a leather-toughness to the character that goes missing whenever his claws have their adamantium.

Wolverine: Not Dead Yet takes place in a time after Fatal Attractions where Magneto sucks the adamantium out of Logan. This mini-series can be a little uneven at times, but it’s one of the best bone-claw Wolverine stories, and bone-claw Wolverine always had a more animal nature that made him more susceptible to his berserker rages. It’s a Wolverine that lives more on the edge.

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Old Man Logan from Wolverine #66-72 and Wolverine: Giant Size Old Man Logan #1 (written by Mark Millar/art by Steve McNiven; 2009)

Mark Millar may be one of comics most prominent creators this century, but his work is either a classic like The Ultimates and Kick-Ass, or it devolves into childish shock value. Old Man Logan can be characterized as both.

It’s set in an alternate, dystopian future where most superheroes are dead, and the United States has been conquered and divided up among the world’s supervillains. Wolvie gave up superhero work long ago, but he’s convinced by former Avenger Hawkeye to embark on a road trip and collect an item that could save humanity.

Yeah, this story can be bonkers and a mess, but it’s a great read. It also doesn’t hurt that the movie Logan borrows just enough from this story with its “road trip” and dystopian future. Old Man Logan just happens to be the current (current as of this write-up) version of Wolverine. This series is where this version of the character began.

That’s my list for readers who are new to Wolverine comics. Did I get the list right or did I pull a Canucklehead? Let me know in comments.

Superman Starter Stories

Standard Issue Comic Book Geek Jim—that’s SICBG Jim to you—is back for another Starter Stories article. He rambled on about “truth, justice and the Geekly way,” and I told him he could commandeer the site if he didn’t preach Superman to me. Okay. Superman—the Standard Issue Comic Book Superhero—doesn’t get enough love. Shine on, you Crazy Kryptonian.

Superman is my favorite superhero. It’s hard to come up with a starters list for him, though, because so many of his best books are retellings of his origins, or Elseworlds stories that can’t be considered canon. With that in mind, here are the titles I recommend for approaching the character and better understanding where he is today.

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Birthright (written by Mark Waid/art by Leinil Yu; 2003-2004)

 Superman: Birthright is a good place to start with Superman. It’s a reimagining of Superman’s origin that includes a lot of what’s part of canon today. Maybe most notably, the idea that the “S” on his chest isn’t an “S,” as “Man of Steel” famously told us. Birthright sets the stage for Krypton to be used as more than a passing point of interest in Superman books. Mark Waid is always a good bet.

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What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice, and the American Way? (written by Joe Kelly/art by Doug Mahnke and Lee Bermejo; 2001)

I love this one because it wrestles directly with so much of what people say is wrong with Superman. It’s a defense of his optimism and an example of how his real powers aren’t in his strength, speed, or invulnerability, but in what he has the power to show humanity about itself. It’s not an attempt to retrofit the character to make him more interesting to modern audiences, but an exploration of what everyone seems to overlook about him now. Lee Bermejo is also one of my favorite creators, so that doesn’t hurt.

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Kingdom Come (written by Mark Waid/art by Alex Ross; 1996)

This book builds on what I’ve said about our second entry. Kingdom Come contrasts Superman with a lot of the more edgy characters in recent comics and makes a case for why Superman is not only relevant, but necessary. Mark Waid does what he does, rendering a faithful depiction of the character, and Alex Ross offers some of the definitive Superman art in recent history.

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Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? (written by Alan Moore/art by Curt Swan; 1986)

This book is meant to put a cap on the story of Superman. It’s told by Lois Lane ten years after the supposed death of the hero. It’s gloomy, especially by the standards of Superman comics, but there’s a bittersweet quality in seeing the character’s legacy laid out on the page.

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The Death of Superman (written by various/ art by various; 1992-1993)

This arc was written and drawn by various creators, as it encapsulates a pretty long arc. I’ll be honest here and say it isn’t one of my favorite stories in Superman lore, but it’s on this list because it’s iconic, and it’s too important to comics history to leave off. This is the story of how Superman died defeating Doomsday. The image of Lois cradling Superman’s broken body, Jimmy Olsen in the background pleading for him to be okay is one of comics’ great panels. Of course, this was the moment that broke death in comics, as the resurrection of Superman set a trend and lowered the stakes moving forward.

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All-Star Superman (written by Grant Morrison/art by Frank Quitely; 2005-2008)

This is my personal favorite. The story that gets to the heart of what makes Superman so special, that even in the face of his own mortality, he protects the people of Metropolis. He stops to comfort a troubled teen on the verge of suicide in another of recent comics’ great panels. Quitely’s art is serene, and Grant Morrison’s affection for the character comes through without making the story saccharine.

SICBG Jim has given your uncle Geekly the honor of writing a closing statement. I hope I can live up to the great example he set. Here it goes.

Superman’s portrayal in the DC Extended Universe—and I blame the writing and directing more than Henry Cavill—leaves a lot to be desired. The DCEU may be one of the largest targets Jim thought of when he said that creators “retrofit the character (Superman) to make him more interesting to modern audiences.”

The stories above, and especially All-Star Superman, do a great job of showing that the Man of Steel is more than a super-powered Batman in gunmetal blue tights. He represents hope, and the original comic book superhero is still one of the best. Do agree with SICBG Jim’s story selections? Let us know either way. I’ll just be in the corner doing my best Mister Mxyzptlk impersonation.